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How Does The Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect Your Spine Health?

By Expert Author: Sana Afrin

Not many people are affected by the rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease. However, this disease is growing amongst radical groups.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a fluctuating, chronic disease which has a widespread impact on the parts of the body. Basically, it affects many joints of the body and extends an impact to the organ systems including the nervous system, heart, skin, and lungs.

This post relates to the impact rheumatoid arthritis has on the spine. In most of the cases, when a patient has rheumatoid arthritis, the cervical spine is involved. From the point of view of a spine specialist, the cervical spine is affected and in such cases a cervical spine surgery is advised.

For the spine, it is noted that the synovial joints, bones and ligaments are affected and damaged due to an autoimmune inflammatory process, which leads to an unstable spine. This results in the brainstem or spinal cord compression.

What are the symptoms seen in this case?

Pain in the base of the head (occipital neuralgia) and in the neck
Pain may radiate to the ears
With neck motion, the pain is generally worsened
A clunking sensation may be felt
With either head flexion or extension, electric shock-like sensations might be felt radiating into one's body

These symptoms can be seen in the early stages of the disease. However, over time other symptoms might show up such as walking disturbances, clumsiness of the hands, and weakness in the extremities. On the occurrence of such symptoms, one can be sure of the brainstem or spinal cord is involved.

If in doubt, what should you do?

MRI
This is an effective tool to provide information about the bony structures, spinal cord, and the brainstem.
Cervical spine x-rays
This will help in assessing the degree of bone loss or osteopenia and the overall bony alignment.
Imaging
This can be helpful in defining the instability and cervical deformity. Also, it should help in identifying the patients who are at risk for neurological injury.

To stabilize the spine, surgery is recommended as this will help in a number of other cases too. It can reverse myelopathy, stabilize it, reduce pain, and prevent further deformity.

However, laser back surgery is opted to prevent sudden death caused by unrecognized neural compression and to avoid development of irreversible neurologic deficit.

Is there a non-surgical route for this?
If the patient is not willing to opt for a cervical spine surgery, he can resort to options like close monitoring of neurologic status via repeated physical exams, patient education, physical therapy, support with the use of soft collars, and aggressive medical management of rheumatoid arthritis.

It is a known fact that rheumatoid arthritis can be a disabling disease, which can have a significant impact on the lives of the patients, especially when it affects the cervical spine. With the spine affected, a laser back surgery can help improve the patient's quality of life.

Jasmine Bilimoria is a research writer and a contributor with Same Day Spine. Same Day Spine Institute specializes in minimally invasive treatments of the spine, using latest cutting edge technologies, such as stem cells, laser discectomies, artificial discs, spinal cord stimulators, minimally invasive fusions, etc for spinal treatments.

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